Reginald Brewster, LAW ’50, a Tuskegee Airman who served in World War II and went on to practice law for more than five decades, died on Monday, Oct. 26, at the age of 103.
The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of approximately 16,000 Black pilots, air traffic controllers, technicians, navigators, ground controllers, maintenance workers, and other support staff. They were the first Black military aviators in the United States Armed Forces and were named after the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where they were educated during their training.
“The Pentagon did not believe that a Black man could fly, and therefore, they basically did not want to train him,” Brewster told Fordham News in 2018. “They still thought that the Black man was mentally inferior. This [idea of] inferiority had to be eliminated. It had to be destroyed. Because there is no such thing as inferiority merely because you are Black.”
Brewster was stationed in England and France during the war, where he served as secretary to the Air Force Base Commander. He was honorably discharged after sustaining a shrapnel injury, but his return to the States exposed him to continued racism.
“The discrimination [in the United States] was sharp,” Brewster said. “It was very critical and sometimes it was even hurtful.”
In the face of this discrimination, Brewster set out to get an education, studying government and math at Fordham College before attending and graduating from Fordham Law in 1950, working for the New York City Board of Transportation while he attended law school. He practiced civil law until he retired at the age of 90.
In 2018, Brewster was honored by Fordham Law’s Black Law Students Association (BLSA) as the recipient of its Ruth Whitehead Whaley Award, which recognizes alumni who demonstrate excellence in the legal profession and provide a model for emerging Black lawyers to aspire to.
“Through his groundbreaking efforts, Mr. Brewster served as a trailblazer for all Black students who attend Fordham today,” the BLSA said this morning in a statement posted on the Fordham Law News site.
Brewster was one of few remaining Tuskegee Airmen, and he told Fordham News that he wanted to keep the history of these service members alive.
“It’s not the height that we attained, but it’s the depth from which we came.”
Watch the 2018 Fordham News video featuring Reginald Brewster: